'People doubt me all the time but I know I can deliver when the pressure is on': Stuart Broad on the fight to keep his place, winding up the opposition and his drive to play in the Ashes again Stuart Broad knows his age opens him up to scrutiny every time he plays The 33-year-old says criticism of his form is incorrect and the numbers prove it Broad performed well as England won the second Test against South Africa He takes inspiration from James Anderson and intends to play in the Ashes again By OLIVER HOLT FOR THE MAIL ON SUNDAY
Stuart Broad picks his way gingerly down the steps from the pavilion at Newlands like a big cat with sore paws. Up in the layer cake stand at the Wynberg End, some fans are still celebrating England’s victory over South Africa in the second Test in the private boxes on the uppermost tier. Their laughter and the clink of their glasses echo around the empty ground.
Broad smiles and looks down at his feet. He has taken off his cricket shoes and his white socks are speckled with blood. He looks up at the majesty of Table Mountain away to his left.
‘Let’s walk around the outfield,’ he says. ‘It’s not often you get to walk around the pitch at Cape Town, is it? It’s probably my last time. Let’s enjoy it.’
Stuart Broad has justified his selection in South Africa with the Test series now level
And so we walk. And walk. More than is good for his burning, blistered feet. But he says that if he sits down, it may take him a while to get back up again. And so we do one lap and then another and then another, much to the amusement of Michael Atherton, who is wrapping up Sky’s coverage out near the square. With each lap, the sun sinks a little lower out of the blue sky towards the mountain.
Broad is happy. He exudes the contentment of a man who knows he has done his job for the team well. Most of all, he talks like a man who loves the game, a man who loves cricket, a man who relishes all its nuances and its tricks and its history and its future and its mental games and its camaraderie and its tests and its challenges and its rewards and its sheer fun.
He is 33 and, even though he has taken more Test wickets than any England bowler except Jimmy Anderson, even though only six men have taken more wickets than him in Test history, he knows his age opens him up to scrutiny every time he plays and he accepts the challenge.
Here, at Newlands, he has justified himself. He has proved himself. He has vindicated his selection. England levelled the series and Joe Root had a superb match as captain. The players, Broad says, all stood up for the skipper.
Some critics had suggested, again, before the game that Broad ought to be dropped, that he and Anderson, who has since been ruled out of the rest of the series with a rib injury, were too old, that they should not both play. Broad’s performance and Anderson’s again proved those suggestions wrong.
Broad says that recent criticism of his form has been unfair and the numbers prove it +8 Broad says that recent criticism of his form has been unfair and the numbers prove it
Lap 1. ‘I get questioned all the time,’ says Broad. ‘I’m certainly used to that. It’s not a problem. Sometimes, it’s very valid. I’d argue this past calendar year, I’ve taken — I don’t know the exact stats — 46 wickets at 25. Well, that’s better than my career. For anyone to say that I’m not performing, that is incorrect. My current numbers are better than my career average.
‘If a striker in the Premier League averaged 18 goals a season and this season he had scored 24, he wouldn’t get questioned, would he? So that’s my mindset. When you’ve been playing international cricket for a long time you do get a protective barrier around you and you don’t let things affect you.
‘Your piece from Saturday, me and Jimmy sent it to each other on WhatsApp. There is one line, which is what we model ourselves on. “The veteran strikeforce of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad showed the way, playing with the fire of 20-year-olds on day two.” That is what we do. That made us very proud to read those words. That’s what we do and have done throughout our career. For people to notice that we still have the enthusiasm of 20-year-olds makes us very proud because that is what we drive towards every day.
‘Our greatest strength in the last eight years, I reckon, is how we communicate. When we open the bowling together we see our job as adapting quicker to get the opening batsmen out. On Saturday, we were thinking about how to get in Faf du Plessis’s bubble: “Let’s lead this attack, throw the ball at Faf, get in Faf’s bubble, all the little things that seem like a bit of nonsense but actually create something.
‘I was throwing made-up stats at Faf. It’s probably absolute rubbish but I had heard that at Cape Town, 80 per cent of the wickets were from batsmen nicking balls to wicketkeeper, slips or gully. So I was making sure Faf could hear me and going: “Eighty per cent nicks here, boys, 80 per cent nicks. Fourth stump, straight bat nicks. We know it’s 80 per cent”.
‘So I was basically telling him to leave the ball. “You’ve got to leave it, Faf, cos if you play at it, you’ll nick it”. And then he played a straight bat nick, didn’t he, when Jimmy got him out. So that’s why Jimmy came running over to celebrate with me and we were like: “Yeah, yay!”.
‘I know it sounds a bit childish but your aim is to just try to have some sort of mental jump on your opposition. Maybe Faf started to think he shouldn’t drive. Any sort of doubt I can get. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Someone like Steve Smith, it doesn’t look like you can affect him. He just seems to be so in his bubble.
‘Jacques Kallis used to walk to square leg and walk back and you couldn’t seem to change his routine. KP, you’d never get confrontational with, because you knew it would improve him as a player. Matt Prior, you wouldn’t sledge him if you were bowling to him, because it would improve him as a player. I love that about cricket. It’s weird. It’s unique. There are so many ways you can affect a game.’
Broad talks about the magic of the match that has just finished, the way it ebbed and flowed, the way victory seemed to have slipped away from England earlier that day when they went two hours without taking a wicket, the way that he and his team-mates then conjured a finish to wipe out the South Africa tail and claim the final wicket with eight overs to spare.
‘It is probably the hardest I have ever had to work to get those final 10 wickets,’ says Broad. ‘The principles that we stuck to in this Test match, the patience and the character we showed, we had times where we went hours without taking a wicket and then we got five wickets in the last hour of the Test match to win. That was a great thing for this team.
‘It’s old school Test cricket. It shows the old characteristics still belong in Test cricket. You can bat all day, you can bat 100 overs for 130 like Dom Sibley did and it’s a match-winning innings if you’ve got the players like Stokes and Buttler around you.
‘You can bowl 10 overs for 20 with no wickets and it doesn’t repay you then but it repays you in three hours. So I think it’s probably one of the most rewarding Test matches I’ve been involved in for the old school principles of Test cricket rewarding the players.
‘If this had been a four-day Test, it would have been a draw. I look back at my career and the best Tests have been five-day games. I like the drama that comes with five-day cricket.
‘The step up’s different. You are playing four-day cricket for Nottinghamshire. You get picked for England and it’s a five-day game. You think: “Right. It’s a different level”. It makes it special. I’m an advocate for five-day cricket because, when I look back at my Test career, the best and most satisfying moments throughout have probably all come in the fifth day.’
Lap 2. We have nearly reached the North Stand at the opposite end of the ground. A Barmy Army member is trying to take down a Swindon Town flag that he has tied to the top of a high railing. ‘Hey, Stuart, you’re tall. Give us a hand, mate,’ says the man. Broad would have to leap over the advertising hoardings first to do that. No chance. He smiles at the man and keeps walking.
He is walking in front of the press box now and I ask him if he savours days like this more now that he is in the autumn of his career. He may, as he says, never grace this wonderful arena again. He may never play in a match as dramatic or as thrilling as this again. He is approaching occasion after occasion when this time might be the last time.
‘The first time I ever thought about that was about three years ago when I read one of Roy Keane’s books and he said he got more determined when he got to 30,’ says Broad. ‘Every time he played in the FA Cup, he thought it could be his last time to win it. It was the first time I had ever thought about that mindset.
‘Experience is a weird thing, isn’t it? I’m 33 now. I have experienced a lot of different things in the game. I actually think it makes you calmer in sport because you have seen a lot of different things unfold. Like today, at tea, probably when I was 22, I would have said to myself: “The game’s gone here”. But instead I thought: “If we get one wicket, however we get it, the tail are going to struggle to maintain the same skill level as the top order so things could happen very quickly”. So I walked out after tea thinking: “We are still in this game massively”. So the older you get...’
I ask Broad if he imparts this experience, this calmness, to the younger England players, if he told them he was confident they would win the Test. He looks around and sees Ben Stokes, who had produced yet another superhuman performance, doing an interview out in the middle.
‘In this England changing room the communication is as good as I’ve seen,’ he says. ‘Stokesy is exceptional at it, at sharing thoughts and opinions. Stokesy does un-English things very well. He says: “Well done” to players. That’s not an English thing to do, is it? This changing room is probably the strongest I’ve been in for congratulating players.
‘It was very special for me walking off at 33 with Dom Sibley not out for his Test hundred here. I said: “Get your eyes up and enjoy this,” when we were walking off because actually they are very special moments. I have played in loads of different teams and all have been very enjoyable but for appreciating each other’s success, this is probably the strongest environment I have been in.’
He talks more about Stokes, who came up big in the pressure moments yet again for England when he took the last three South Africa wickets in an irresistible final spell. In the first Test at Centurion, Broad and Stokes had a disagreement on the third day.
‘We got a wicket and in the huddle afterwards, I said “Boys, I think we can up our standards out here, bowlers can hit the lengths harder, fielders can stop the ones, they’re on top of us with their energy”,’ says Broad. ‘Stokesy went “I don’t agree with you.” Which is great. You don’t want yes men, do you?
‘He said “I don’t agree with you, I think we’ve been good”. I said: “Fair enough, it’s just my opinion but I don’t think we’ve been very good”. And we had a bit of back and forth like that. I really liked that. A couple of minutes later he walked over and gave me a big fist pump and he even texted me that night saying something like “Sorry, mate, for that disagreement”.
‘There’s no need to say sorry. That’s sport. That’s what it’s about. It’s part of why communication is so strong in this group. The great thing about that was it was just two blokes trying to get England in a better place.’
Lap 3. Broad pauses in front of the pavilion steps. I ask him if we can do one last lap. Talk a little more. He won’t know about the extent of Anderson’s injury until the next day but I mention how I had seen the pair of them strolling into a restaurant one evening some days previously and how relaxed they looked in each other’s company.
‘We are great friends,’ he says. ‘We talk a lot of cricket together because we both love cricket. We are learning all the time from each other. We know each other’s bowling probably better than we know our own bowling.’
The arrival of Jofra Archer threatens their partnership but Broad makes a prescient point. ‘Chris Silverwood and Rooty have been clear that with the amount of cricket we play there is going to have to be some sort of rotation at times,’ he says. ‘It is unrealistic to think that a seamer can play every single Test in a year. So you do need a battery of fast bowlers.
‘I know that in a pressure scenario, I can still deliver when conditions are in my favour. If I get left out for rotation or they believe the pitch is not suitable, that’s OK. As long as they’re not going, “You’re gone and you’re done” because I still feel I have a lot to offer.
‘But if I miss out at Port Elizabeth for the third Test because they think it’s going to be slow and reverse and Woakesy reverses it better than me but they say “Get fit and fresh for the Wanderers because you are bowling there”, then cool.’
The walk is almost over. Atherton shouts something about doing four laps. We are back at the foot of the pavilion steps. No more laps. I ask Broad what’s left. What are his targets? He is getting close to 500 wickets now, only 21 dismissals away from a mark only six other men, including Anderson, have reached.
‘Jimmy’s my idol a little bit,’ says Broad. ‘He’s 37, he looks great, he’s still performing. My record in Australia, certainly with the new ball, is pretty good. At this stage, do I want to be part of a team going to Australia in 2021-22, having built for 18 months with a view to taking them on? Absolutely.
‘Cricket is one of those things that you can’t look too far ahead. What’s my next thing to change to compete again? I am working with a strength and conditioning coach, I want my pace not to dip through the year, I want it to stay at 83mph, 84mph at peak, getting the bounce I want.
‘Certain things just steel me up. Because why not? Why not have a crack at Australia again? I had a great time this summer. Really enjoyed it. We didn’t win the series but it was an amazing series to be involved in. I watched Jimmy walk off with five for 40 here at Cape Town at 37. He was getting a lot of stick here four years ago. I’m watching him walk off and I’m thinking: that’s inspiring.’
He turns and walks back up the stairs. Over Table Mountain, the sky is still blue. The sun is sinking but it has not set.
Think this could be a really good series just like the Sri Lanka tour with lots of fast scoring/flowing tests. West Indies look half decent especially in the bowling stakes with Gabriel, Roach and Holder all very good performers. My team although they won't go for it would be... Burns Woakes (they'll go Jennings) Bairstow Root Stokes Buttler Foakes Ali Curran/Rashid on conditions Broad Jimmy.
I'll predict a 2-1 England victory, chucked in a half day today to watch..always loved the Caribbean test matches, the 90 tour is probably the first away series I remember. Gooch, Lamb, Ned Larkins taking it to Marshall, Ian Bishop, Patrick Patterson and Walsh (Ambrose couldn't get in the side!!)...conch shells in the background and Tony Lewis on the mike, great stuff!!
Just sorting out somewhere a bit different for long weekend of drunken debauchery. Prices look ridiculously cheap, what's the beer and vino scene like. We're all a bit old so not worried about late night clubs etc as will probably have fallen asleep/into a coma during dinner anyway.
Great start from our young lads in their QF vs the Aussies, currently have them 28-4 and on the ropes. On SS4 & being played at the glorious Queenstown in NZ being overlooked by the aptly named Remarkable Mountains. The only place I've ever watched cricket where planes taking off behind the bowlers arm stops the game!!!
Thought last nights WC play off despite lacking in any real quality was an absorbing match and expecting more of the same tonight. Going to be an absolute battle and probably some hoofing we would be proud of. Who's everybody backing? Last minute Jonas screamer....